There are two kinds of synthpop bands. The first kind is an artist like School of Seven Bells, a seminal band that engenders deep hurts and ethereal longing (one half of the duo died of Benjamin Curtis in 2013) amid the Roland segues. They somehow capture something that resonates with analog precision even though you know it’s all bits and bytes, tangential accents on a computer display. The music takes a long step back and lets the emotion in the vocalist’s voice shine through. It takes a true mastery of the genre to pull this off – think M83 or Goldfrapp, maybe Grimes or Lights, the revelation that was New Order and Depeche Mode.
Cardiknox is the second kind of band. Lead singer Lonnie Angle wears a fitness outfit when she performs, jumping around like she ate too many jelly beans before the show. The lyrics fall into a similar category as your discussion about sweet potato pie recipes the night before and what you plan to do on Saturday after you finish doing your taxes. The melodies (see the song “Wild Child” as a good example) tend to repeat the same pattern a few times. You don’t descend into a deep despair ala Frightened Rabbit or lament your eternal existence. It’s more like, you wonder if you should wear bright pink or purple to the gym next time.
If that all sounds pretty terrible, hold on for a second. It’s actually pretty awesome.
Once you accept that Cardiknox is supposed to be fun and a bit mindless, that they’re going to cover topics that are not going to give you a headache or serve as fodder for a philosophy class, and get that the repetition serves its purpose as a way to get you pumped up, it grows on you. Some of the songs grow on you so much you you can’t quite wash them off.
The song “Doors” is a good place to start in understanding what makes Cardiknox worth your time. The beats are heavy and a bit obvious, sure. Angle emotes over a droning synth, then breaks out into full Lights mode and nails the upbeat chorus. You cheer a little inside. On “Wild Child” she channels more than a hint of Grimes. Nothing too cerebral here: “There’s a fire inside of my chest / and it won’t ever rest / so light up a match because I’m never looking back” she sings. You want to believe her, but the song is way too joyous and uplifting.
You can tell by the song names alone that Cardiknox wants you to get up and dance: “On My Way” and “Into the Night” could be Blondie b-sides. “Bloodlust” might be a throwaway but you discard it as you nod in anticipation of the big bad chorus. The one thing that’s a bit confusing about this New York City dance duo is that Angle hails from Seattle and is classically trained while her music partner Thomas Dutton once played in punk bands. Wait. This might be the perfect description of what happens when you mix those two styles.
So, a long way from Vampire Weekend. A few songs that were phoned in a bit, like “What Do I Do Know” which seems to rip off an earlier chord progression. There’s a song about procreating like a supermodel, which is just weird. A few sadsack slow songs. Yuck. Everything finally comes together in one yoga-pants congealed nirvana state on “Shadowboxing” with all that is right about the band — a big chorus with big drums and big themes about relationship troubles. There’s hope in between the synth digressions. You start to become a believer.